Thursday, December 2, 2010

nano and other surreality

Do you have those days when you feel like you are operating in a parallel universe of some kind? As if you are working the script of one movie (most often Lifetime) and other people are living the scripts of some other movie (like a Coen brothers film)?

I have had a couple of those experiences recently, both with creative obvious, one less so, but...

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of traveling to Boston for the Crime Bake conference. As usual, this one was great, with the extra bonus that I had volunteered to be a time keeper for several presentations. But the real drama began when I arrived at the Boston airport for my direct flight home. It was a little before 6 a.m. and I had just dropped off my rental car and had been deposited at the terminal (always a scary thought to me). So when the attendant told me that my flight was canceled, I just knew that the rest of the trip would be memorable.

I was re-booked for a flight a couple of hours later, no longer direct. This time I would have to connect through Philadelphia, where my past experiences (and probably past life experiences, as well) were never positive. But, at least my thinking could be...I resolved to go with the good.

In Philly, waiting for my 1220 flight, at some point around 11:15 it was announced that the flight was canceled. People scurried to the one ticket counter (about 20 gates away) to rearrange flights. Being long legged, I was the second person to arrive at the counter. Next flight? About eight hours later.

After much debate, great inactivity, some arguing by other passengers, and the winds of fate, it was decreed that ground transportation would be arranged for the less than two hour land journey that would be needed to get home. But, oh! The baggage!

We were directed to get our bags so we could take them on the bus when it arrived. We were sent to an area where there were two carousels, and nobody knew which one would deliver our baggage. So, periodically five or six bags would be spit out of one area, and everyone would move to that side and wait. After fifteen minutes or so, the other side would spit out several bags and the behavior would repeat.

It was somewhere in the midst of an hour and a half of waiting for baggage that the most surreal event occurred. I was standing (remarkably I hadn't succumbed to fatigue) and watching for anything that might help me get out of that airport, when who should walk my way but Garrison Keillor, author/pundit and midwestern representative. He was wearing a trench coat, sweatpants, and red Adidas sneakers with no socks. He stood beside me and eventually plucked a red suitcase from the carousel and was on his way. I think I stood with my mouth open for a few seconds, watching him go. It was a punctuation point of an unreal day.

By the way, the baggage never arrived on either carousel. We were eventually told just to get on the bus, and that our baggage would be in the Harrisburg airport awaiting us. Of course, it wasn't. Mine arrived somewhere around 1030 pm by a beleaguered airport representative.

I will save the directly related creative story for the next entry!

Creatively yours!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Writing and Nocebo

A while back I wrote about the power of the placebo and the importance of belief in influencing behavior, even at the physical level. For writers, creative types, and, well, people in general, it is equally important to consider the nocebo effect.

Nocebo, of Latin origin, means "to do harm." The nocebo effect is based on a person's belief that a negative outcome will occur, such as when he or she takes a pill, or engages in some other form of treatment. In a larger sense, it is our anticipation of a negative outcome that actually encourages such an outcome. The pill taker doesn't receive benefit, or, in fact, experiences negative outcomes. The expectation of writer's block, poor golf game, negative visit with a friend or relative, etc., may prepare our bodies and minds for such outcomes, priming the pump.

We worry. We fret. Sometimes we fret about our worries. A lot of energy gets channeled into negative spaces. In art, that may lead to the creation of some really cool sculptures. In our daily lives, however, we're stacking the deck against ourselves.

To create a Freudian slip, "I'll see it when I believe it." Truer words were never spoken!

So, for today, for right now, what negative expectation will you cast aside? Shall we focus on positive outcomes?

Onward and upward!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Query Process: Shades of Charlie Brown?

I am a writer. With a completed thriller and the first draft of my second thriller in the vault (ok, so I don't really have a vault...), I continue to work at my craft (sometimes I even use Popsicle sticks and Elmer's glue), attending workshops and getting up way too early every day to put words to paper. I even  take the writing that I do for my daily job quite seriously. And I make sure that I save time to send out those wonderful query letters, in the hopes of attracting an agent. Kind of like what other people do with fly strips, roach traps, and mosquito netting in other lines of work. For anyone who has queried, we know that at times we are going to get "Dear Occupant" responses and an occasional "Dear Would Be Writer," which is even worse. The "no response" means "no" is also becoming a popular non-response, given that agents are so busy these days. The whole "no response" theme would have made a great Seinfeld episode.

But sometimes, we get a bite on the line. We get a request for a partial manuscript, or, trumpets blaring, a full. Those requests are the ones that evoke the spirit of Charlie Brown, in my mind. In particular, I think of all of the times that Charlie Brown would stare at Lucy, who is holding the football, readying for his approach. There is an implied promise that he will be able to kick the ball and send it sailing. He stands. He watches. Perhaps he even salivates. And then, he takes a running start, lifts his kicking leg, and "AAUGH!" Lucy moves the ball, and Chuck goes sprawling on the ground. 

We put our stuff out there, and, even though we may feel like real blockheads at times (I sure do), we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get ready to go through the whole thing again.

But, although we may suffer from writer's block at times, we are not blockheads. We are writers. 

Cheers to all writers, readers, and those who love us!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Query Process

Some people say that the process of sending queries to find an agent is very similar to dating. There is a courtship element involved. Tentative attempts for a response that actually conceal a longing and hope and desire, and, whoops, the query is beginning to sound very much like a "bodice ripper." Let's not go there today.

Instead, it might be fun to consider alternative "jobs" to being a writer at the query stage. Something that captures the essence of putting your heart on the line with the possibility--more like probability--of rejection.

Here are some ideas that I came up with to start:

1) Javelin catcher
2) Crash test dummy
3) Novice electrician
4) Pharmaceutical control subject
5) Bungee cord tester
6) Great White Shark feeder

What ideas can you come up with? Feel free to respond!


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing as Placebo

In medicine, with new trials of medication in particular, there is an evil word that hides in the background, although sometimes it looms large on the horizon, while frightened researchers try to scurry backwards, their heels gouging at the earth to gain a grip. The evil is the placebo effect--the non-pharmacologically potent pill that half of the subjects (patients) take. The researchers pray that their medicines will be more powerful, more potent, more effective than the placebo pills, so they can show that the medicine makes a difference and should be channeled into the pharmacy pipelines where it will hit it big--and make a ton of money.

In other parts of the world, the placebo is not viewed as a nuisance, but as a sign of something positive. The placebo represents belief in action. It reflects expectancy, a sense that something--something good--is going to happen. That's why, when we stop and think about it, we see the power of the placebo. Patients who believe that they are taking a potent medication actually have a reduction in the symptoms that the "real" medicine is targeting. No drug side effects, but symptom reduction nonetheless.

In writing and other creative endeavors, we must learn to harness the power of the placebo. The power of our beliefs. What do you believe? Where do you want to go? Maybe we can take that journey together. Let's see where belief takes us, shall we?

Verbally yours....

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Cookies fresh from the oven. A cold glass of milk. Freshly baked bread. These are only words, but the images that they evoke also stimulate other senses as well. Can you smell the cookies? Can you hear the sound of the milk splashing into the glass as it is poured? Can you taste the chocolate chip morsel that is melting against your tongue?

Every day, words are used to evoke our emotions. Sound bytes and news advertisements draw us in with powerful words, words that sometimes frighten us, like  assault or attack or abuse, when those words could actually convey any of a wide range of behaviors. When we actually see the clip or watch the show or read the column, the overall impression that we get can feel pretty watered down in comparison with the build-up. On the other hand, the writer did his or her job. The words that were carefully selected drew us in, had us waiting for the big story.

The flip side, of course, are the cookies, the bread, the turkey roasting in the oven. Lazy summer days. The last day of school. The sense of an infinite summer. Words that take us back to childhood days. Words evoke memories. Memories provide us with a break from our daily lives. They serve as reminders of attitudes we may want to recapture. Relax more. Chill. Repose. Laugh. Play.

Freud said that words were originally magic. He was right. And, they still are.

Verbally  yours.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Writer's Block

For some writers and those who teach writing, writer's block is nothing more than a myth. Why? Because someone could write about any subject just to stimulate the writing process. So, if I am working on my second novel (which I am) and have trouble getting started, I could write about my difficulty getting started. Or I could write about the weather, or my mood, or my wish that the Pittsburgh Pirates might have a winning season sometime again during the remainder of my lifetime. None of those topics necessarily help my second book, but they keep my fingers on the keys.

Unfortunately, I do believe in writer's block. I don't see it as a myth. I don't see staring down the blank page as a noble feat (blank pages intimidate me, some days). Sure, writing is putting your behind in the chair every day, but, hey, there are word goals and page goals, and....

Yes, I have had writer's block so large and looming it was more like writer's town or writer's city. How frustrating is that? Plenty. But that is part of the process, too, and just because there is no typing going on it doesn't mean that I'm not problem solving in my head or sorting through a thorny structural or plot issue.

The moral appears to be, be patient.

Verbally yours....

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An initial blog

The first blog is the deepest. With that in mind, I decided to create some arbitrary terms to expand my blogging world. So, moving from the idea of a blog as a web log, what if we entered these terms into common usage? Feel free to begin to use these words in your daily conversations and email exchanges (with proper source acknowledgement, of course! :-)....

Bog: A blog entry that takes forever to write. Alternatively, a series of blog entries (or an entire blog) that never seems to get to the point.

"David wrote a bog the other day."
"He is such a bogger."

Cog: A blog entry that serves a definite need or stimulates additional critical thinking.

"I read a cog that really got me going."
"Theresa is an artful cogger."

Dog: A blog entry that was just plain poor, either in terms of quality or was difficult (qualitatively) to read.

"I spent too much time reading through a dog."
"Josef thinks he's posting good stuff, but he is just a dogger."

Fog: A blog entry that seeks to obscure the real message. For example, a blog about shaving cream turns into a political vendetta of some kind.

"Unfortunately, the search engines turned me on to a lot of fogs."
"Henry needs windshield wipers when he writes. He is a real fogger."

Flog: A blog meant to punish someone or stir up trouble.

"Roberta really flogged the Democratic Party in that one!"
"I should go home and publicly flog that book reviewer."

Frog: A blog entry that jumps all over the place and is difficult to follow.

"Pete wrote a frog that left me speechless."
"Playing frogger is not my idea of fun."

Hog: A blog entry that takes up an inordinate amount of bandwidth.

"A five page hog is a bit much."
"Sally really hogs it when she gets started."

Jog: A blog entry that can be read quickly. A one sentence blog, for example.
"Sometimes a jog is all I need to start my creative energy flowing."
"Toni turns a word into a jog like no one else."

Log: A blog entry that sits for eternity, perhaps never to be read by anyone other than the author.

"I was looking for some entries on the immune system and tripped over someone's log."
"I think Harry writes stuff, but they're just a bunch of logs."

Nog: A blog entry either written near the traditional holidays or appear to have been written by someone who is at least slightly intoxicated.

"That had to be a nog. No one is that out of touch with reality!"
"Betty is one nog away from being discovered by a rehab."

Tog: A blog entry about coats or cloaks or other outer garments.

"I didn't know anything about pea coats until I read Alfred's tog."
"Armando is a togger for one of the larger clothiers in England."

So, there you have it. Just some examples of how words take off and encourage derivations. As a thriller writer, I appreciate the power of words to move readers.

Verbally yours....